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Behind the Bar: Freedom Weekend

Words: Shamim de Brún

The party is back. No more are the people of Ireland condemned to relive the same house party over and over with their same five bubble buddies. Now people can galavant all through the land without so much as a care in the world. 

Revellers of Freedom Weekend splashed their cash, painting towns red across the country. Dublin was no exception. Social media was awash with queue videos, and the Temple Bar Live Cam was fun again.

While hospitality staff have to continue to wear face coverings, it’s no longer mandatory for customers, and social distancing is now gone. The carnival atmosphere prevailed as people gave ‘dry January’ the finger and celebrated with wild abandon for the first time in nearly two years. But what was freedom weekend like behind the bar? 

@DublinbyPub

“It was a bit surreal.”

Willie Ahearn of the iconic Palace Bar in Dublin’s Fleet Street said customers arrived first, unsure of what to do. “It was kind of funny that morning. People were kind of coming in, and they were kind of looking at us. We were kind of looking at them. They were like, do we just go in like this?” After two years of being conditioned to produce certs, sign in, wait to be seated, people just didn’t know how to walk up to the bar anymore. It was like we, the nation of the pub, had forgotten how to order a pint.

Of course, it came back to everyone. It’s like riding a bike. You might get a bit rusty, but you don’t ever forget. Saturday was like the return of the regulars. Faces they hadn’t seen since the most considerable international inconvenience of our time launched came back to claim their old booths and catch up with the long time staff at Palace. He said it was nice to get back to “how are you doing? What’ll you have” while you’re standing at the counter having a good chat with your customers. 

“Two pints and two Midelton’s”

It was a night for treating yourself. Ahearn said you would “see fellas coming in getting two pints and two Middleton”. But, of course, Pre-pandemic, there wouldn’t often be a customer who would rock up to the bar ready to spend fifty quid on 35ml of Midleton Very Rare. Saturday night, though, it was rounds and rounds of unique, high-end whiskey with people capturing the essence of freedom by splashing out on themselves. 

But they were all ready to head home before last orders because they were wrecked. It’s been so long since we’ve had a chance to go-rounds in the pub that most people can’t hack the sesh anymore. Ahearn said, “People aren’t much fit for that at all.”

“Alright enough Guinness”

Unsurprisingly, our national drink saved the day in a time of shortages. The last-minute nature of the reopening meant many places; the Palace included didn’t have enough of anything to get through. “I’d be honest with you on Saturday, and we hadn’t geared up for it at all. Ran out of a couple of lagers. Alright, enough, Guinness though, You know, we made it work.” he said. 

TheAngryBartenderIre had similar problems. The Twitter savant runs a Superpub in Dublin city, and on Saturday, he also ran out of everything. By the end of the night, people were just drinking whatever was left. Luckily he had kept the “high moving and fast-moving” beers in stock through January just in case. That included our city’s favourite tipple. The black stuff. but everything else was a struggle.

guinness
@guinness

“A pain in the hole”

For staff, when things run out, it is a pain. You can make all the signs you want, but mostly, it comes down to letting people down repeatedly. This can only be described as “a pain the hole, to be frank”. But the revellers of Ireland “were understanding.” and pivoted to drinking whatever was available. Even if it was an off the wall liqueur, they’d never heard of. 

The queues were something else. All across our fair city. This led to “a lot of hassle at the front door”, Not because there wasn’t physical space for people but “because people are outraged that they have to queue when it looks empty inside.” You can understand, we all hate queuing at the best of times, but even more so when you feel like you shouldn’t need to be outside in the cold, or when you can see a free table “right through the window”.

Low crowd density inside big venues at the weekend had nothing to do with social distancing and everything to do with staffing levels. Angry Bartender said that you couldn’t just let everyone run in “because we have no staff to serve you correctly.” They only had six-bar staff on Saturday. A quarter of what they would need to fill the venue. He said that if they “fill down the whole place as we did previously. No one’s getting a drink. Customers get pissed off. Staff get pissed off.” and no one has a good time. Keeping the queue outside protected the staff and the customers from disappointment. It meant everyone had a good time. 

“Staff making them a lot happier”

The reopening has meant relief for his staff. They know they’re going to get hours. They can now start to budget and know they’ll be able to pay their bills. He said, “that definitely seems to be a lifting of pressure and stress from staff making them a lot happier”.

The weekend was one for the history books with all levels of Dublin out on the sesh. Young groups, older groups, families, friends, people you only like on a night out. Everyone was on the lash celebrating together – it was a fantastic day and hospitalities busiest in over two years.

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